On Saturday morning, a ground-shaking blast greeted anyone close to a Pasadena, Texas, refinery, which is said to be owned by Brazil’s national oil company, Petrobras. One person was injured in the explosion that sent first responders scrambling to contain the resulting fire and the abundant plumes of smoke rising into the air.
Initial reports had suspected that there had been three persons injured during the explosion and resulting fire but sources who are familiar with the emergency operations at the plant advised that after a final count of Petrobas personnel, it was determined that only one person was hurt. The injured party is a unit operator, and was taken to a local hospital, treated for the burns he sustained and has since been released.
Petrobras also released a statement that advised that by mid-afternoon, the fire at the Pasadena Refining System, which had begun around 10:15 a.m., was contained at the 100,000 barrel per day (BPD) refinery. The refinery has their own firefighters and they were able to contain and put out the blaze relatively quickly while members of the Pasadena Police and fire were on standby to assist. The fire was able to be contained and air monitoring indicated no issues.
“The fire has been contained and the facility is in a safe condition. Authorities have been notified and are supporting the response. Air monitoring has been conducted by Pasadena Refining and Harris County Pollution Control, with no indications of any off-site impacts.”
The fire managed to cause a brief shutdown of the Houston Ship Channel, as well, due to the heavy black smoke hindering their operations. The fire also caused even more scrutiny of the refinery company, as Petrobas has had a long and torrid history of safety and pollution violations. In fact, in December, 2011, there was another explosion, and since 2010, the company has had to pay $1.1 million in fines from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
The Petrobas officials held a press conference on Saturday that they abruptly ended four minutes in. They quickly began refusing to answer questions regarding how many workers had been on the job at the time of the fire and whether or not there had truly been a preceding explosion. Questions regarding the operation of the plant, especially considering the facility’s expired federal permit, were also left unanswered. The Houston Chronicle noted that the federal operating permit actually lapsed back in 2014. It was also reported that the company will be applying to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for a renewal of the permit to operate under the Clean Air Act. Petrobras spokeswoman Sophie Gates, has, however, denied that the company lacks the proper permits needed to operate.
According to legal proceedings in Brazil, Petrobas’ parent company, Petro-leo Brasileiro S.A., has also been linked to the corruption scandal that the Brazilian government has become engulfed in. Reuters has written that the Brazilian government stands accused of taking kickbacks from Petrobas, who used a significant portion of the $1.2 billion that the company paid for the plant to facilitate the illegal transactions. The massive kickback scheme has resulted in dozens of arrests and convictions, and has only fuelled the call for the impeachment of the country’s President Dilma Rousseff, who was the chairman of Petrobas back in 2010.
Prior to the reopening, the Coast Guard hazmat teams were sent in to investigate the scene for any environmental impact from possible chemicals being released in the air or any impact on the nearby waterways.
[Image via Leonid Ikan/Shutterstock]